03 June 2012

"The rulers of Byzantium were accustomed to blinding their rivals"

A miniature showing the Bulgar leader Alausonius receiving Deleanos in his palace and gouging out the eyes of his rival. Culture: Byzantine. Date/Period: 11th c.
The rulers of Byzantium were accustomed to blinding their rivals. With ornamental eye scoops, with daggers, with candelabras, kitchen knives, and tent pegs, with burning coals and boiling vinegar, with red-hot bowls held near the face and with bandages that left the eyes unharmed but were forbidden to be removed; sometimes it was sufficient merely to singe the eyelashes, for the victim to bellow and sigh like a lion as a trained executioner pantomimed the act.

Sometimes cruelty was intended beyond the enucleation itself, as when the emperor Diogenes Romanus was deposed and “they permitted some unpracticed Jew to proceed in blinding the eyes” and “he lived several days in pain and exuding a bad odor.”

In 797 the empress regnant Irene blinded her son Constantine VI and caused an eclipse that lasted seventeen days.

Basil II blinded fifteen thousand Bulgarian soldiers, and every hundredth man he left with one eye to lead another ninety-nine, and when these men returned home to their king Samuel he looked upon them and died. Michael V blinded his uncle John the Master of Orphans. The iconoclasts blinded the eyes of the icons.
From an interesting essay about Byzantium in this month's Harper's Magazine.   Image from the Werner Forman Archive.

9 comments:

  1. I knew these stories, but every time I come across them it reminds me of how insanely cruel humans can be to each other.

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  2. This utterly cruel blinding of 15,000 defeated soldiers by the "Christian" Basil II in 1014 AD is confirmed in a very lengthy wiki page (or 20 pages, perhaps) of which the last quarter is lists of sources, etc, thus making it fairly trustworthy. How someone - or people - had the time and knowledge to put it all together is beyond my understanding, but it surely must help explain how the whole area of what is now Turkey later became Muslim. Even Sharia law must have seemed benign in comparison: all you had to do was obey it and you'd be safe, which wasn't the case for the 15,000 who were obeying the law/orders of their own ruler.

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  3. Earlier today, I wrote a comment on this story, selected the profile as anonymous, previewed and edited it, and finally clicked to publish it, after which the page told me my comment had been published. And yes, there it was. But now? It is gone? Any idea what's going on? I had no foul words or insults in it, I swear!

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    1. I found both comments waiting in my review-for-spam email folder this morning. That happens automatically on old posts, but I see no reason why it should have occurred with this one.

      I find it especially curious that the comment should have been published, THEN reassigned by the bloghost for review. First time I've heard of that happening.

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    2. Not to worry: all's well that ends well!

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  4. It is barbaric indeed but incapacitating was still more humane than simply killing them. And it was not always enough. Hungarian king Béla II "the Blind" was blinded along with his father by his uncle, King Coloman of Hungary, to prevent the father from further scheming, and to secure the throne for Coloman's own son. Béla still had the throne later, and ruled for 10 years, not without success.

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  5. "In 797 the empress regnant Irene blinded her son Constantine VI and caused an eclipse that lasted seventeen days."

    I don't think causality works that way.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe seventeen-day-long eclipses work like that...

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